The Tribute Money

Today’s gospel is all about one of the most certain thing there is about life: taxes! Here’s the reading:

NABRE

Matthew 22

15 Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. 16They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. 17 Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” 18Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. 20He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” 21 They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Just as taxes are a big issue today, they were a huge issue back then. Though, they were perhaps an even huger issue. After all, just as our American Revolution started against the British partly because of issues in taxation, several insurrections were started when Jerusalem didn’t want to pay taxes to the Roman Empire that occupied them and viewed such taxes as a form of enslavement on them.

As many people believed that Jesus was the messiah, they had an expectation that He would be able to overthrow the Roman Empire and reinstall the Davidic Kingdom that had long since been forgotten — and take away the taxes that they viewed as a form of enslavement while doing so.

So, you have to realize that the question that the Pharisees posed was a question that was fully intended to kill Jesus there and then. If He said that it wasn’t rightful to pay taxes, the Roman authorities, afraid for yet another insurrection, would likely execute Him. If He said that it was lawful, his disciples, who fully hoped that He would take away their taxes, would be mad and might even turn against Him and kill Him.

So, Jesus was really in between a rock and a hard place!

And that’s one reason I like artworks of the tribute money, such as the one below! Jesus is being quizzed about His stance about taxes. But look how they press against Him and corner Him! They are fully expecting that He will be destroyed, which is why they press against Him so. After all, they have the perfect question that there is no right answer for… or so they think.

The Tribute Money, by Giovanni Serodine, c. 1620-30. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom.

And then Jesus says what He says — the perfect comeback. And nobody knows how to respond to it, so they go away, disappointed.

Which just goes to show: it’s very hard to prove God wrong!

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for installing a kingdom that is fitting for us in Paradise, where You are, ready to welcome us. Help us be good stewards to Your creation and to be just with each other.

Amen.

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